What are Industrial Control Panels?
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
Section 409.2 of the National Electrical Code defines industrial control panels as "an assembly of two or more power circuit components, control circuit components, or any combination of power and control circuit components." That covers the minimum condition of an industrial control panel, but in this blog, we'll discuss what they contain, what they're used for, and why industrial control panels are needed.
Industrial Control Panels: Components
Depending on their application and needs, industrial control panels will contain a combination of components in various configurations. The leading certification for component and industrial control panel standards in the US and internationally is UL508A. Industrial control panels serve several functions in different settings, most often simultaneously, and the various components of each specific industrial control panel will define its capabilities. These various components include:
Enclosure and backplate: This platform holds the industrial control panel components. The panel may be open (for insertion into an industrial machine) or enclosed within a junction box to exclude dust, rain, light, particulates, rust, oil, or other fluids. Further details on requirements for UL508A certification for enclosures and other components in different circumstances can be found here.
Circuit breakers: These are designed to protect workers, equipment, and other components in the industrial control panel from faults or equipment failure. A circuit breaker trips when there is a short circuit or an electrical overload.
Transformer: An industrial control panel transformer reduces or increases AC voltage between circuits; for example, changing a 480V AC input to the 120V AC required by another device.
Power supply: This changes the incoming power so it can be used by different electrical loads, mostly from AC to DC, such as from 480V or 120V AC to 24V DC.
Fuses: These protect devices and equipment by breaking a circuit when there is an overload of power. Fuses can be single-use, needing to be replaced after overheating and melting to break the circuit, or be resettable, using a polymer that increases resistance when heated but returns to normal when cooled.
Relays: These turn circuits on or off. How they do this can vary, such as electronic, electromechanical, or electromagnets.
Contactors: These are similar to relays in turning circuits on or off but are used for higher current loads than relays, such as electric motors.
Terminal blocks: These connect two or more wires using clamping components, conducting strips, and various connection types to reliably secure connections between wires.
Disconnect switch: This disconnects components or the entire industrial control panel from a power supply so that maintenance, replacement, or other work can be carried out.
Programmable Logic Controller (PLC): This industrial computer monitors the inputs from devices and components it is connected to and outputs commands to them based on the program it has been set. It is the operating mechanism for automated processes.
Human Machine Interface (HMI): A panel or display which allows operators to monitor processes through data gathered by the PLC.
Ethernet switches: These allow communication between connected devices and equipment, such as sending data to servers and operators monitoring processes. Ethernet switches act as a hub for devices to communicate through.
Motor drives and starters: Industrial control panels start (through contactors and relays) and operate industrial motor drives.
Industrial Control Panels: Use Cases
Though some of the individual components of industrial control panels may be low-tech (wiring and fuses), the combination of components can run various high-tech industrial processes while ensuring greater safety from electrical overloads and faults for operators and equipment. These include:
Industrial Machinery Controls
Motor Control Centers
Access Control Systems
Service Equipment Use
Heating and Cooling Equipment
Factory Automation Equipment
Commercial/Industrial Gas Burners
Semiconductor Manufacturing Equipment
Marine Use Controls
Fountain/Irrigation and Related Aquatic Controls
Industrial Control Panels: Why They’re Necessary
With their large range of functional capacity, industrial control panels are integral to manufacturing processes across a broad spectrum of capacities. It is important to remember that certification of industrial control panels, such as UL508A, is required to ensure maximum benefit of the safety, risk and functional capacities of industrial control panels. The reasons why they are deployed in industrial settings include the following:
Safety: This is a primary function of industrial control panels, as they connect inputs to multiple loads, ensuring safe capacity on all circuits. Fuses, circuit breakers, and transformers ensure excess capacity, so faults or failures don’t pose threats to operators or cause damage to systems and equipment.
Reducing risk: Related to safety, industrial control panels limit user and operator risk to the potential of dangerous electrical current. It limits the potential of equipment overload and the creation of hazardous conditions arising from equipment faults or breakdowns, overvoltage, or short circuits. This is essential for creating industrial spaces that prioritize worker safety.
Modern controls: Industrial control panels allow advanced programming and safe conducting of industrial processes. I/O mechanisms communicating information between operators and machines have created even more precise and efficient manufacturing capabilities.
Remote communication: The monitoring capability of industrial processes and equipment, especially with IoT sensors' widespread deployment, allows operators to react quickly to component failure or perform predictive maintenance. This helps improve margins by avoiding costly equipment shutdowns.
Protection: Industrial control panels protect loads and field-connected equipment from over-current, which could destroy components. The industrial control panel will have its last line of defense against power surges for branch circuits.
Limited points of failure: Industrial control panels are discrete units for connecting, protecting, and controlling industrial equipment and processes. Maintaining all necessary wiring, circuit protection, motor starters, and other components in specific units eases the monitoring and maintenance processes for this equipment.
Industrial control panels can serve numerous functions within industrial settings. They protect circuits and equipment, reduce the risk to operators, and control industrial processes. In addition, improved I/O allows for precision engineering and maintenance schedules, increasing operating margins.
Outsourcing the fabrication of industrial control panels can reduce your overhead, deliver UL508A certified panels and components, and give your organization access to the expertise required to create specified panels. Enercon specializes in providing custom engineering solutions to meet customer requirements worldwide. We have ongoing and completed projects across all of North America and 110 countries around the world.